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  Apple on the Ball with their New iMac
Chris Page

Four years ago Apple launched the first iMac. It saved the company's flagging fortunes, spawned a legion of imitations, and started a whole new design chic in everything from computer peripherals to plastic knives and forks.

Six million units later iMac has ceased to be a novelty. Faced once again with slipping market shares. Apple has reached deep into their bag of innovations and pulled out something they hope is good enough to get the punters back into the store.
A few weeks ago Apple unveiled their newest iMac at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco, and the buzz since has been a mix of incredulity over the eccentric design and admiration for Apple’s audacity.

The new iMac was, to say the least, unexpected. Has Apple lost the plot? Are they playing games with us? Or, is it truly genius?

Apple's new core product manages to be bulbous, spindly and flat all at the same time. The design has drawn a host of derisive comments such as, "It looks like Pixar's icon angle-poise lamp". The New York Times thinks the base looks like a "volleyball in a lake" and another member of the press mused that it appeared to be "a shaving mirror for aliens".

Apple themselves have made the unlikely assertion that its design is inspired by a sunflower.

Yet the very critics who were early sceptics, have since moved on from crude and unkind similes to using words like elegant and innovative.

Once recovered from the initial shock of the new, people arc realizing that the word innovative makes a lot of sense. The ball base and the articulated flat screen are not gimmicks. The screen is indefinitely adjustable and therefore an ergonomic triumph. And while giving the novel impression that your work is floating before you, the screen almost blocks the user's view of the less elegant base.

The new design is also space conservation savvy, with the entire works stored in that bulbous base which is just 26cm in diameter. Flat screens are not new, but up till now ilnv li.ive fronted a bulky hardware package, or have run from a computer taking up space under your desk. In addition, the all-in-one unit conveniently requires onlv two cables, power and keyboard, helping to keep wire clutter to a minimum.
The new iMac packs as much speed and memory as a professional's PowerMac, and represents an internal engineering feat more impressive dian even the external design.

Your bottom-of-the-line iMac now runs on a 700mhz processor, with more expensive models running on 800mhz. That "volleyball in a lake" comes with 128MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. Moreover, Apple has made upgrading your memory or adding an AirCard for your new iMac as easy as changing the batteries in your Walkman.

Included in the body is a combined CD-R DVD player using Apple's Super Disc technology. The top-line models will also bum DVDs in the same machine so you can put your home videos on disc. For the same functionality in any other computer you would need two separate players, and a bit more money.
Apple's impressive features continue into iMac's software, giving users more gadgets than a Swiss army knife.

Apple CEO Jobs' current vision of the computer is of a hub that unites all our digital devices: our digital cameras. DVDs. MP3 music players, and so on. Tlic software that ships with the iMac allows you to store and edit liome or commercial video and snapshots without venturing inn i baffling professional software. Ditto music It has compatibility with palm pilots and mobile phones. You can also bum your files to a CD/ DVD super disc which will play like a regular disc in your friends' or family's regular players and not just in Mac computers.

Mac's dedicated software allows you to manage your digital tasks in one place widi a single interface that eliminates having to find and install applications for every device you have, and then finding more applications to manage your sounds and images. This Mac vision makes using your computer in daily life as basic and rudimentary as using the phone or the TV.The iMac starts at $1.300 and goes up to $1,800. This is, as is usual with Apple,a bit steep for a home computer, but to get the same power and features with even a non-Mac computer you could easily pay over $2000.

Whether the new iMac is elegant or silly is debatable. Whether it can increase Apple's market share remains to be seen. That it is a great little machine that pushes forward our idea of what a PC is and what it can do, and that it heralds the birth of countless imitators is certain.

This article first appeared in Kansai Scene

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